Weekly Roundup, Friday 15 August, 2014

Norwegian's 787s have been spending too much time on the ground and too little time flying, recently.
Norwegian’s 787s have been spending too much time on the ground and too little time flying, recently.

Good morning

Happy birthday this week, sort of, to the podcast (a seminal event occurring on 14 August 2004).

I’ve never much appreciated podcasts and webcasts, feeling that their ‘linear’ nature and forcing you to watch/listen to a presentation in realtime with no easy ability to speed-read and skip through, such as you have with written web content, is a bit at odds with the non-linear nature of the internet.

But I’ll concede podcasts may have some benefit for people driving with nothing else to do while in the car, or while exercising, or at other down times when other forms of activity/entertainment are not so convenient.

(Note that I’m using ‘podcast’ to refer to audio only presentations – sort of an internet radio broadcast.  The term ‘webcast’ more actively implies possibly video too, in more of a representation of internet television.)

It surprised me to learn that as many as 15% of people in the US listen to podcasts weekly, but quite possibly I’m missing something here.  Maybe this is a new way to make The Travel Insider more accessible and engaging to a broader audience?

It seems I speak at a rate of 145 words/minute, so a weekly newsletter with 3000 words would represent just over 20 minutes of podcast (the newsletters seem to range from slightly under 2000 words to over 4000 words).  Of course, you couldn’t click on links while listening to a podcast, such as you can when reading the newsletter on your computer screen, but if there were links you wanted to subsequently visit, you could come back to the written newsletter and scan for them.

Here’s an MP3 audio sample (call it a podcast if you wish) of the first few items in this week’s newsletter, so you can get a feeling for what a Travel Insider podcast would be.  If the concept proves popular, I’d polish the presentation by improving the sound, maybe adding a few tones to signify things like the presence of links and the start of new items, and that sort of thing, and also reduce the file size.  You can at least get a general idea, though, of what it could be like to listen to, rather than read, a Travel Insider newsletter, with the sample file here.

Can I ask you :  Do you listen to podcasts?  Do you even know what they are?  More to the point, would you like your weekly Travel Insider offered to you in a Podcast format?  And – at the risk of sounding venal – would you pay for a Travel Insider Podcast?

Now for a hopefully fun thing.  I’m using a free survey service to create a reader survey on this point.

Please click this link to provide your responses.

I’ll report back to you next week on your opinions.

If you’re looking to create your own surveys, I can recommend this Quicksurvey service to you.  It seems to offer enormous flexibility and is all for free, unlike some of the better known products which cripple/limit the service they provide for free.

With that as slightly oblique introduction, what else is there this week?  I started off something that was to be just a brief piece below, but which grew to become a freestanding article on its own; an interesting look at the marketplace ‘failure’ of the A380, while wondering whether it is really Airbus’ fault.

In addition, please keep reading for :

  • MH 17 Update
  • 787 Problem?  Or Budget Airline Problem?
  • US Airline Rankings
  • A Most Extraordinary Loss of Control by a Pilot
  • Naughty Pilots
  • Ebola Exaggerations and Nonsense
  • More Uber Pushback
  • Should Tourists Pay to Access Public Markets?
  • Email Terrorism/Revenge
  • And Lastly This Week….

MH 17 Update

Apologies for the misleading headline.  There’s precious little ‘update’ to report, with both sides still not releasing any definitive proof of their respective contentions that the other side was responsible for shooting the plane down, leaving us stuck in an infantile ‘he said/she said’ slanging match.

A preliminary report into the plane’s crash is expected to be released in the first week of September.  The official investigation is being conducted by the Netherlands (international protocol gives this responsibility to the country the crashed flight departed from), with the black boxes being analyzed by the UK.

We don’t expect this investigation to tell us who launched the missile, although if they can at least definitively confirm that it was a missile that was responsible for the plane crashing, that would advance the state of the current argument somewhat.  We’re not sure the preliminary report will tell us that.

So, we’re now four weeks (and one day) past the plane crashing, and essentially none the wiser.  The really frustrating thing is that, almost certainly, our political and military leadership know exactly what happened, and the same is probably true of the Russian leadership too.  So who is benefitting from keeping the truth from the greater public?

787 Problem?  Or Budget Airline Problem?

We’re getting closer to the point where I might grudgingly concede that the worst of the nasty surprises lurking within the 787 may have been exorcised.  By Boeing’s own admission, the plane’s dispatch reliability remains slightly below their target, but in general, the plane has been operating well and brave souls who have flown on it tell me they really enjoyed the experience.

New discount international carrier Norwegian has had a particularly bad run of misfortune with its 787s, however, and last week saw one of their flights, from LAX to London, delayed two days, and a second flight, from Stockholm to LAX, had a one day delay.  This has caused frustration, particularly in Scandinavia, where 1200 passengers have brought legal action against the airline, and staff at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport called for police protection against upset passengers.

A Norwegian spokesman said

We absolutely do not want to blame Boeing and we have faith in Boeing. But we do think that one should be able to expect significantly better stability on brand new planes.

US Airline Rankings

Lots of companies rank airlines from allegedly best to allegedly worst.  Some have very opaque methodologies and, to be polite, surprising results.  Others are more open about how they derive their rankings.

One of the latter type rankings is that published by Airfarewatchdog.  This is their third year of ranking, using factual statistics measuring five aspects of airline performance, although we’re not quite sure what weightings they give to the five factors.  Actually, it doesn’t matter, because they show each airline’s score in all five categories as well as a calculated overall placing, so you can form your own conclusions as you wish.

This year sees Delta named as the best US airline, followed by Virgin America and Alaska.  At the other end, United is the country’s worst, and American is second worst.  Some people might be surprised to see Southwest rated as third worst.  The rankings are limited to the eight major and second level airlines (the other two airlines being Jetblue at #4 and Frontier at #5).

A Most Extraordinary Loss of Control by a Pilot

Landings are a ‘busy’ and somewhat intense time for airplane pilots, even if they have the auto-pilot doing all the work for them.  They are busy communicating with Air Traffic Control, running through checklists, maintaining a visual lookout for other planes getting in the way, keeping an eye on what the auto-pilot is doing, completing paperwork for the flight, and so on.

If something goes wrong during the landing stage of a flight, there is less time to correct it before the plane possibly crashes.  So you expect the pilots to have their finger on the pulse of the plane.

Something did indeed go wrong on a recent Flybe flight as it came in to land in Belfast, and indeed, the pilot was so caught up in managing the flight after the problem occurred, he didn’t feel able to ask the copilot to lend a hand.  Or, as more accurately might describe the situation, an arm.

Naughty Pilots

Who can forget the outcome when the Costa Concordia captain chose to impress his passengers and took his ship too close to the rocks.

An analogous example of what an airline pilot could and  – alas – did do was provided by US Airways Captain Edmund C Draper, who decided to gratuitously fly over his house – oh yes, and a nearby shopping mall too.  When we say ‘fly over’ we mean ‘only just barely above’ – he was at about 525 ft while flying the plane full of passengers.

The pilot subsequently had his flying license revoked by the FAA.  All we can say is, flying at that low altitude, it is a good job his arm didn’t fall off.

Ebola Exaggerations and Nonsense

We wrote about Ebola last week, with our essential conclusion being that while it is a very nasty disease, the present scare greatly exaggerates the risk to us in the west, and probably also exaggerates the risk to people in Africa and elsewhere too.

As if to contradict us, the same day we published our article, WHO announced it was declaring the Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, notwithstanding that it was confined to four African countries.

Okay, we’d normally concede that WHO knows a great deal more than us about Ebola and most medical matters, so we were saddened to see the unfortunate exaggerated rhetoric in its announcement.  In partial justification for classifying it as an international health emergency, WHO said that Ebola “has a case fatality rate of up to 90%”.

Did you spot it?  Yes, that terrible term, ‘of up to’.  They could as well have said ‘of up to 100%’, because any time you say ‘of up to’ you are including all numbers lower than that, while of course implying that the actual number cited is close to the most applicable number.

So what is the real case fatality rate (CFR) for Ebola?  Considering all known Ebola cases since its discovery, the average CFR is in the 60% – 65% range, and for this specific outbreak, it is currently around 54%.

So, instead of having only one chance in ten of surviving, people actually have four or five chances in ten.  That’s a huge difference, and shame on WHO for fanning the flames of the Ebola panic.  Why did they do that?

Two examples of the harm caused by this unnecessary panic.  In the UK, border staff have threatened to strike over fears they may be exposed to Ebola infected people entering the country.  And a company is offering do-it-yourself steps for concocting a home-made homeopathic Ebola remedy (step one being to obtain a live sample of Ebola).  We urge you not to try that at home!

During the last week, total Ebola fatalities have risen by only 108 (now at 1069).  How many people have died in the same four countries, during the same period, from Aids, malnutrition, malaria, dysentery, or even from cancer, or road deaths or other preventable accidents and negligence?

We remain puzzled at the extraordinary prominence being given to Ebola, even by medical leaders.

More Uber Pushback

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and I wouldn’t mind betting that the seemingly never-ending flood of stories about cities and cabbies waging battles (both legally and literally) with Uber has given the fledgling taxi-type service more new business than any paid advertising they’ve bought.  So, for Uber, it is an ill wind that blows no good.

This week saw another example of how city governments totally fail to understand who they are supposed to be serving.  This time it is Berlin that is the guilty government, and they have banned Uber outright.  Did they do this to protect their local taxis?

Oh no.  The Berlin city government chooses instead to insult our intelligence by saying they decided to ban Uber to protect its citizens.  This is appalling nonsense that we can all see through.

But Uber did also receive a bit of truly bad publicity this week.  It seems that in the sometimes ultra-competitive struggle between Uber and its similar-service-providing competitors, with the struggle extending not only to getting passengers but also to persuading drivers to work for one company in preference to the other, some people at Uber have been calling and placing bogus bookings for rides with Lyft.

Lyft claims to have proof that at least 177 Uber employees booked at least 5,560 fake rides in just under a year, including one Uber recruiter who booked 1500 rides himself.

Uber has responded, claiming that Lyft has, in turn, booked 12,900 fake rides on Uber.

Shame on both of them.  That’s way beyond acceptable, and we all lose as a result.

Should Tourists Pay to Access Public Markets?

This is an interesting question.  If you’re like many tourists, when visiting a foreign country you probably enjoy visiting the local markets, and seeing the hustle and bustle of the stalls, the smells and sights of their produce and wares, and the general vigor and life of the local town all around you.  I even enjoy visiting supermarkets too – I feel I get much more of a feeling for the lifestyle of an area by visiting a modern supermarket than I do by visiting a 500-year-old castle or church.

But in some small towns, when cruises ships with thousand of passengers all descend on their small market simultaneously, the market gets jammed packed full of tourists – and the tourists of course are there to look rather than to buy.  You’re not going to take some raw meat back on board the cruise ship with you, are you!

The net result is that the locals can’t squeeze into the market while the tourists are in town, and the market stall owners actually experience a drop in business (although, for sure, a massive rise in samples given away or taken!).

Tourism and tourists can have its downside.  So Valencia’s Central Market is considering charging an entry fee for tourists to enter the market.  We think that’s fair enough.  If Disney can charge $100 to recreate such sorts of places at Epcot, surely it is fair to see the real thing for massively less money.

Email Terrorism/Revenge

I know I’m not the only person who has problems with other people ‘sharing’ their email address.  Having been an early adopter of most of the free email services, I have simple email addresses without lots of numbers and other things in them, for example, drowell@whatever.

Inexplicably, there are three or four other people in the US who sometimes enter my email address into forms, rather than entering their own correct variant (such as perhaps drowell123@whatever), and so I get their email coming to me.  There’s a trucker in the south, a vapid woman in the Bay area, an about-to-go-to-college student in Oregon, and various other people who are unable to type in their correct email address in forms.  This is entirely different to people sending emails to me by mistake.  This is people entering their own email addresses incorrectly (and repeatedly).

Once or twice it was amusing, but now it is a nuisance – particularly the person who signed up for Match.com using my address; I can’t discontinue the emails I get without logging in to their account, and I of course don’t know their password.  Occasionally, with services that will allow access based on clicking a link in an email they send, I’ve been slightly ‘playful’.

Once I managed to contact a person at their correct email address, and they blamed everyone and everything except themselves for putting in my email address instead of their own!  Another time, a friend told someone they were using his address incorrectly and the person disputed that!

Anyway, if you’ve had a similar challenge, you might appreciate this story.

And Lastly This Week….

We see that Delta has a dispute with the company that managed its in-flight duty-free sales and so cancelled all duty-free sales.  That’s a great lose-lose-lose for Delta, its passengers, and the company managing the duty-free program.  Typical airline response, in other words.

But maybe there is another reason for Delta’s decision?  Perhaps it is choosing to instead concentrate on, ummm, unusual things?

We like to castigate Amtrak, and point out some of the wonderful trains available elsewhere in the world.  But sometimes we realize there are worse things out there than being a passenger on Amtrak.  You could instead be, well, a passenger on the ‘train of drunks‘ in Russia.

Talking about Russia, overhead in a tour group about to visit the ballet, with a group member anxiously asking the guide ‘What language will this ballet be in?’.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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